Drafting History

  1. Drafting History - Introduction
  2. Overview of Process and Key Documents
  3. Accounts of Drafting Process
  4. First Session of the Human Rights Commission
  5. First Session of the Drafting Committee
  6. Second Session of the Human Rights Commission
  7. Second Session of the Drafting Committee
  8. Third Session of the Human Rights Committee
  9. Third Committee of the General Assembly
  10. Plenary Session of the Third General Assembly Session
  11. Reference

There are several accounts of the drafting process, stressing the role of different individuals, powers and cultures. In the United States there are few challenges to the view that the Roosevelts shaped and molded the human rights story, and indeed, many consider the human rights project to be no more and no less than an American project.(1) Alternative views persist, however, and there are various challenges even to this most basic story.

The fact that the UDHR was finalized under the shadow of the Eiffel Tower allows France to call itself the birthplace of universal human rights. The version of the story commonly told in France puts renowned legal scholar René Cassin at center stage. Cassin had great influence on the final draft text and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in fostering the UDHR.

In recent years, scholars have begun to peruse many contemporaneous documents and retrospective accounts. In 1996, for example, British political scientist Tony Evans developed an account that privileges hegemonic interests. Grounding his study in the dominant theory of international relations, he argues that the UDHR was an American project that rose, and fell, with the tide of US interest.(2) An alternative perspective on political dynamics is offered by William Korey, whose version of the story emphasizes the role of non-governmental organizations.(3) In her article “Universalizing Human Rights: The Role of Small States on the Construction of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Susan Waltz highlights the role of states not belonging to the US and other Western powers.(4) The question of the inclusiveness of the drafting process is dealt with in the discussion concerning Preamble Clause 7.

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Peter Danchin, Columbia University